Category: Performance


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A last minute dash to the West End resulted in Saturday night at the Prince Edward Theatre. Disney’s Aladdin was spectacular – a bouncy, vibrant musical and a special treat for any fan of the Disney film.

Everything from the set pieces to the costumes is big, bold, and classic Disney, screaming Disney from the moment the curtain rises. The decision to add extra characters, such as Aladdin’s friends, does sit a bit oddly at first but his pals prove their likeability during the second act.

This script fizzes with wit in moments, mostly during the Genie’s scenes, however it does feel slightly panto in parts, particularly during Jafar and Iago’s front of curtain scenes. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially given the shows target audience are children, but it does seem a bit unexpected,  when compared to Disney’s other hit, The Lion King.

Aladdin was played with heroic charm by Antony Hewitt and Jade Ewan was perfect as Princess Jasmine. Admittedly, the Genie is the star of the show. Just as the first act is starting to dip, the lamp is rubbed and out pops Trevor Dion Nicholas with his fast-firing jokes and impressive magic tricks. ‘Never Had A Friend Like Me’ is the definition of a show-stopper with an extended arrangement, extravagant tap routine, vanishing male lead, and appearing showgirls, all accompanied by a riffing genie. It’s enough to leave even the Disney-adverse humming the chorus days later.

It’s not just the Genie’s magic that adds an extra special charm to the production. There were ooohs and aaaahs a plenty when the magic carpet actually floated around the stage with not a string in sight. It took a bit of googling to discover how it’s done, but the clever use of modern tech adds a whole new world of magic to the show.

Overall, Aladdin is a dazzling diamond in the West End. A real cave of wonders.

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Image result for miss saigon I walked into the Palace theatre knowing nothing about Miss Saigon, but I left with a haunting soundtrack flickering through my mind. Whilst the story of Miss Saigon is simple, Sooha Kim and Ashley Gilmour make stunning work of captivating the audience as Kim and Chris. I was struck by how quickly the audience cared about them, particularly Kim, whose naivety and innocence is performed beautifully by Sooha Kim. Whilst the doomed romance between Kim and Chris makes for plenty of drama, it’s the score that gives Miss Saigon its real power. From the dramatic opening as Kim’s village is attacked to the thunderous rumblings of the finale, each song whips up the tragedy and emotion perfectly. ‘The Last Night of the World’ was the only song I was familiar with prior to watching, but the intense crescendo of the song wasn’t the only musical piece that left me with goosebumps. Gilmour gave a vulnerable performance during ‘Why God Why?’ and Kim’s ‘I Still Believe’ was pitch perfect in every way.  But it wasn’t all drama – thankfully Red Concepcion was on hand to provide some light relief as the sleazy Engineer, delivering every vulgar comment with extra grease. This was a production where every cast member was giving their all – even the helicopter earned a round of applause!

The most poignant theme of Miss Saigon isn’t the heart-breaking relationship between Chris and Kim, but the desperate lengths Kim will go to in order to protect her son, Tam. It’s a story about the strength of love, but not necessarily the story you were expecting.

 

It was the first week back after half term so the usual ‘stepping back on the treadmill’ stuff was happening. Planning, prepping, panicking, etc.

Then on Thursday, I was sent on a course at the last minute. It meant driving through picturesque Wales to Llanrwst, taking part in a drama workshop and, the clincher, a free lunch so, of course, I was on board immediately.

The focus of the course was Dorothy Heathcote’s Mantle of the Expert strategy. Having spent a lot of time researching this particular area of Heathcote’s work as part of my PGCE dissertation, I was really excited to see how a school in Brecon had put the strategy and pedagogy into practice. Mantle of the Expert is all about engaging pupils in a task by adding a sense of theatre. Obviously, this was my jam. After some hands-on examples of how this can be implemented, I certainly left Llanrwst feeling motivated and re-energised. It was a much-welcome boost.

The teachers leading the training were inspirational and it was refreshing to hear their realistic opinions and experiences. These were everyday teachers who experienced the same ups and downs as the rest of us, but were enjoying lots of success after taking a risk with their teaching. ‘Mantle’ involves putting the pupil in charge, whilst the teacher takes more of a directorial role. The pupil is given the freedom to explore and lead their own learning, whist in a role as an ‘expert’. For example, their role could be a leader of an expedition to the Titanic wreckage, or a recruitment agent for a Superhero agency. The trainers shared countless examples of how they have used Mantle in the classroom and I was pleased to see some of the techniques were already being touched on in my class. This term I’ve already asked year one to be wedding planners and party organisers, so I felt like a lot of the ideas shared would fit in with my teaching.

So, on Friday I bounced into class with a new idea. I needed to teach ‘Light and Dark’ to the children and I had an idea of how to introduce it. Using a pop up tent, some leaves and plenty of fabric, I built a cave in the corner of my classroom and set up the laptop to play soft snoring sounds into the class. When the children came in I greeted them with lots of ssssh-ing and gesturing to the cave. Straight away they were in total awe and began questioning what could be inside the cave, all through careful whispers so as not to wake our visitor up. I of course feigned ignorance and conjured up a story of how I’d found this cave when I arrived at school and wanted to wait for the children before I went inside as I wasn’t quite brave enough to risk it alone.

I left them hanging for a bit whilst we carried out our usual morning rituals, then got them all riled up by asking them if they’d like to see what was inside. The answer was, of course, ‘YES!’. So, in my most Olivier-worthy performance, I crept over into the tent and performed my side of a conversation. When I emerged, the children were rapt with interest. I explained that inside the cave was a very friendly bear and the reason he was sleeping was because he had such a terrible night’s rest due to his fear of the dark. The children were very sympathetic and before I could explain further they were suggesting ways we could help. Which is exactly what I wanted them to do. So, following ‘their’ suggestions, we researched light sources on the internet and watched a video clip, dismissing sources which we couldn’t use, such as as the sun or car headlights, and made a list of possibilities. We tested a candle in the classroom, but the children were quick to point out that might not be a safe option for the bear. I then gave the children time to, in groups, test out some objects we’d found in the classroom (some handily placed) by taking them into the cave. If the objects helped them see the bear then they were light sources, but if they didn’t then they were not.

I can’t tell you how excited they were. Most notably, the children who are usually less focused and engaged were fizzing with energy and excitement. One boy was so animated, it was lovely to see him dashing around the classroom and testing things out in the cave, keen to find a solution for the bear. He was also using complex, topic-appropriate language within his investigation. It was fab!

The course trainers had shared how Mantle had not only improved standards of work and behaviour in their school but it had also given the children a sense of value. They knew they were being trusted with their learning so they made sure they didn’t abuse that trust. Differing to our usual Topic-based work, which change termly, Mantles can run for any length of time. In this particular school they stressed the importance of allowing a Mantle to run its course and not feel pressured to squeeze as many in as possible. Some Mantles can last for weeks whilst some can run their natural course in just a few days. It all depends on the children’s responses and the ideas they want to explore.

From my initial experiences with Mantle of the Expert I can already see that it is a powerful tool to enhance learning and self-confidence. After last week’s brief session, I’m going to try to develop the ‘bear cave’ idea to incorporate natural and man-made light, shadows and transparent and opaque materials. It was a huge hit in blwyddyn un and from the responses of the children it is definitely something I’ll be implementing more often in the future.

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am a strong believer in bringing drama in whenever possible when it comes to teaching (and also, when it comes to life). After all, teaching is very much a performance.

Our topic this term is ‘Celebrations’ so, before we hit the traditional up-coming festivities, we’ve been looking at ‘family celebrations’.

Last week, we threw a birthday party for Hilda the Hippo.  The children were visibly excited about Hilda’s birthday and even made cards and presents for her at home. We had a problem solving activity which involved planning the party and dividing party items between the guests. We even wrote a recipe (which linked nicely into our ICT work on algorithms!) for a birthday cake. As a special treat on a Friday afternoon we threw the party for Hilda, which included lots of music, party games, balloons and, of course, pass the parcel.

This week, we moved on to Weddings. Earlier in the week the children received a wedding invitation from Candy and Kevin (two characters we had in the role play area). The children were so excited to be invited to a wedding that they didn’t need much encouragement to get working. First we ‘helped’ Candy and Kevin by designing our own wedding invitations. Then they designed their own wedding cakes and delivered the invitations (using algorithms to find the correct address – It’s all linking in!). On Friday, drama took centre stage in Blwyddyn Un, as we staged a wedding for Candy and  Kevin. Then children took turns sharing roles in the ceremony. We had some super-eager ushers and a very nervous father of the bride. Complete with costumes and traditional music, the wedding was a success and one of those rare moments where you think ‘everything is going brilliantly!’. The children were engrossed in their role play, taking their parts very seriously and needing very little encouragement from the adults in the room. We had loom bands for wedding rings and we even had a wedding cake to cut! (And a couple of guests who were eager to skip the ceremony and get to the reception to eat cake. It was all very true to life.) I felt that by bringing elements of role play and performance into our topic work and actually re-enacting a wedding ceremony, the children really got a feel for the experience and it was an opportunity for some rich learning.

Next week, we’re having a christening in Blwyddyn Un, so let’s hope it’s just as successful!

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‘Darkness, grief and unspeakable sorrow.’

Well…not quite. Darkness, yes, but there were plenty of laughs at the WMC in Cardiff on Friday night. I’ve been reading a lot on twitter about The Addams Family musical so I was really excited when, by pure luck, I bagged two tickets for last Friday.

As the orchestra struck up the familiar theme tune, what was initially clear was just how well cast this show was. Samantha Womack is a perfect Morticia – cool and sultry throughout – whilst Cameron Blakely makes a terrific Gomez. Both actors have sizzling chemistry together (proven with a sexy tango) and match each other with each witty punchline. They both resurrect these iconic characters perfectly. Perhaps surprisingly, ‘Love’ is a key theme of this production, most prominently the love between a family, and Blakley shows Gomez’s love for his daughter,Wednesday, beautifully, particularly during the song ‘Happy/Sad’, where he reflects on the memories he has of his young daughter, such as the first time she set fire to the Jehovah’s witness, evoking the dark humour we associate with the family.  (Another example, when Alice asks if the Addams’ have a little girls’ room, Gomez responds with ‘We did, but we had to let them go.’)

At first, Wednesday’s (Carrie Hope Fletcher) change of character is a bit awkward, but all becomes clear when Wednesday belts her showstopper number ‘PRelated imageulled’, explaining that her change is a result of her love for Lucas. As the show progresses, it becomes clear Wednesday’s sadistic side is still lurking as she tortures her brother and gets very excited about potentially shooting Lucas in the head with her crossbow (all in the name of love, of course).

Valda Aviks was also fantastic as Granny, particularly during her ‘Full Disclosure’ speech. It was a smart move to address the ambiguity around Granny’s connection to the family from the cartoons and movies, by having Morticia refer to her as Gomez’s mother before Gomez retorts with ‘My mother? I thought she was your mother?’.

 

Les Dennis gave a great performance as Fester and his story thread of being in love with the moon was typically ‘Addams’ and, at the end, quite sweet. Dickon Gough also deserves a mention for his scene-stealing performance as Lurch. Lurch doesn’t speak but became a clear audience favourite thanks to Gough’s comic timing and surprising hip action in the finale number. (One complaint – where was Cousin itt?!). The main cast are supported by an excellent cast of ancestors, complete with choreography reminiscent of Thriller.

As well as the familiar quirky characters, the show boasts a catchy score. Andrew Lippa nails the new music and each number feels very natural to the characters. In particular, the opening number ‘When you’re an Addams’ is a definite ear worm and the final number, ‘Move towards the darkness’, will haunt you after you leave your seat.

What’s also impressive is the way the gothic Addams mansion is brought to life on stage via moving staircases and hidden entrances. The suspended moon above the Addams family home creates an eery and dramatic scene.

Overall, The Addams Family is a treat for theatre fans with a gorgeous score, fantastic visuals and a stellar cast.

Watch the opening number here

Watch the trailer here

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Image result for 42nd street londonI had an unexpected and very last minute trip to London last week.  Amongst the walking, talking and dining, I found myself at the Theatre Royal for a surprise tap-dance down 42nd Street.

I had very few preconceptions about the show, and I didn’t really have time to consider it too much, but I knew I was in for an old-fashioned, high-kicking performance. Four rows from the front, I had perfect seats (courtesy of TodayTix rush tickets) which gave a great close-up view of the stage.

The shows standout quality is its sheer spectacle. The sets and costumes are absolutely dazzling and during several musical numbers it’s hard to be anything but totally absorbed. The lights, moving set pieces, harmonies….It really is mesmerising. During one sequence a huge mirror is lowered to firstly, reflect the audience, and then tilted to show the dancers lying on the stage floor carrying out a very intricate synchronised sequenced. It was so impressive even the mirror got a round applause!

Tom Lister and Gabrielle Lewis-Dodson gave great performances as theatre producer Julien Marsh and clumsy chorus girl Peggy Sawyer. Sheena Easton was also brilliantly bitchy as the acerbic actress Dorothy Brock. I really enjoyed Jasna Ivir’s performance of Maggie Jones, delivering her witty one-liners with perfect comic timing (On musicians ‘Let’s just say they’re in a pit… and there’s a reason we keep them there!’)Image result for 42nd street london

Musically, the show boasts lots of catchy numbers, many of which I wasn’t familiar with until I’d seen the show, but caught myself humming many times since. ‘Go into your dance’ and ‘42nd Street’ are big tap numbers that get the audience going, but it’s ‘The Lullaby of Broadway’ that really steals the show. Ear worms a-plenty in this show!

The overall plot, a chorus girl getting her big break in a huge Broadway show, is a bit flimsy in parts, particularly some of the songs in the ‘Pretty Lady’ musical (What is the plot of that show?!), but that doesn’t distract from the energy and passionate performances of the cast.  42nd Street is a spectacular night out of good old fashioned West-End magic.

Watch the trailer here

I used to have a bit of a fear. I didn’t like doing things on my own. I’ve got friends who would happily go to the cinema alone or eat in a restaurant by themselves but I never felt comfortable doing any of those things. I’d feel like all eyes were on me and I just the thought was enough to make me cringe.

As we get older, we do start to lose that horrible feeling of self-consciousness and realise that the world is not looking directly at us. If anything, we’re pretty invisible. Last year, I started going to the gym. At the first, it was with a friend, so any awkwardness could be laughed off, but when my friend could no longer find the time to gym, I was faced with the option of ‘go alone or stay at home’. I was tempted to jack it all in and vegetate in front of the television but the desire for a healthier lifestyle made me choose the first option. Initially, I was self-conscious but after a couple of solo visits I realised everyone else was too busy focusing on their own work-out to be scrutinising my sweat sessions. Hitting the gym became my ‘me time’, a chance to work out and spend quality time with myself.

I started to realise that I could do things on my own….

I’ve been desperate for a break away for years. I wasn’t fussed on where – abroad or closer to home – but I needed a trip away. When it became clear that going with someone wasn’t going to be possible, I decided not to wallow in self-pity at home but to bite the bullet and go solo!

So, I spent three days of the half term in London. It might not seem like a big deal to some people, the kind of people who travel alone all the time, but for me it was huge. I can be quite an anxious person, so the thought of being away from home, where so many things could go wrong, worried me for a short time after I’d booked the trip, but the possible adventures my trip could produce soon dawned on me. Being a huge theatre fan, I was determined to see a show or two whilst in the West End and I realised that I could see whatever I wanted! I didn’t have to compromise with anyone because this was my trip! I made all the decisions. So, on my first night I saw Les Miserables, a show I’d wanted to see for a years, and I was not disappointed. On the second night I saw David Tennant in Don Juan in Soho which was hilarious and extremely topical. Not once did I feel odd for being a solo audience member. In my time in London, I visited all the places I’d always wanted to see. I went to see Van Gogh’s painting in the National Gallery, spent a few hours in the British Museum, had a coffee at the Theatre Café and shopped in Covent Garden. I literally did not stop walking (just ask my poor feet!). I didn’t have to consult with anyone because each decision was my own to make – and it was very liberating!

So, if you’re the kind of person who would turn down the chance to do something great because it would mean doing it alone, take the plunge and be brave. This half term break has been the best for a long time because I didn’t let anything restrict my fun – I grabbed it and made the most of it! Not only did I have an awesome time but I learnt a bit about myself.  Travelling solo reminded me that I have strength, I can be brave and I can relax, and I can be comfortable in my own company. So my advice: Do it for yourself, go solo and enjoy!

Oh. My. God.

48hours left.

Months of planning and prepping and rehearsing have led us to this week. We’ve spent today on a last minute hunt for props and costumes before having our final rehearsal.

Everything is as ready as it will ever be. A tree has been erected in the dinner hall and the PE cupboard is now home to Excalibur.

With just one full day left before the performance, the children are far more relaxed than the staff (which is how it should be!). Although today’s performance was not quite as energy-fuelled as other rehearsals, the children have worked hard to put this production together and I’m sure they’ll dazzle for the school and their parents on Wednesday.

Strangely, for me, an odd calmness settled over me today. I’ve got faith in the children to pull it off but it’s also oddly comforting to know that I only have to days left to worry about anything performing arts related! Bring on the show!

Drama and performance is a passion for me so I was really pleased when I was asked to take over the Performing Arts club. We’ve got a bunch of very talented and enthusiastic children this year, and they’ve been working super hard since January to put together a show based on (a topic of their choice) Welsh Myths and Legends.

We’ve seen everything – from costume confusion to corpsing to totally improvised dialogue! Now we’ve got two weeks left until the performance date. Rehearsals are going well but that anxious ‘oh-my-goodness-two-weeks-left’ feeling is starting to trouble me. We’ve got a child who doesn’t know how to yawn, a tyrannical barber’s wife and I’m having to give lessons in villainy at lunch time. The children have done a fabulous job at learning their lines so I’m not too concerned about that, but I am concerned about what I can do to aid their performance. They’ve worked tremendously hard – fashioning a story, a script and creating some brilliant performances – so they deserve the best support they can get. So it’s a shorter blog post from me this week, because I’m neck-deep in music-editing, prop-sourcing and set-designing.  Wish us luck!

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So it’s back. I always forget just how much I’ve missed Doctor Who until those opening titles of a new series roll out.  Series 10 kicked off on Saturday with the introduction of a brand new companion – Bill Potts. After the initial intro clip last year I wasn’t too sure about Bill. She came across as a bit too cartoony and goofy and I could see her being very annoying very fast. However…(wait for it….rare moment coming up) I was wrong. Bill definitely made her mark in her premiere episode – showing that she was an intellectual match for the Doctor and adding a fresh new dynamic on board the TARDIS.

Bill is a new kind of companion. She sees things from a view point we’ve not had before. (She even asks the classic question in a different way – ‘Doctor what?’) She is refreshing for many reasons but mostly because of her humanity. I loved Clara, but by the end of her run if felt like she was saying the same things over and over again. The same quizzical expression. The same sarcastic comments. The same sort of cutesiness. Bill is different. Bill isn’t afraid to call the Doctor out on his faults – which of course Clara was happy to do too – but I can imagine Bill doing it with a bit less sass. She’s honest, grounded and flawed. She’s just a bit more human! The ways she’s written comes across so naturally. Perfect qualities for a classic companion. Bill also had one of the best introductions to the TARDIS, with the lights slowly booting up as the camera pans out…..only for her to liken it to a kitchen (its’ true) and a lift (also true). In her first episode she experiences heartbreak as she is forced to let Heather go. Her strength, complexity and emotional depth in these scenes are promising. It’ll be interesting to see how her story unfolds…

One thing that did stick out as odd was the re-appearance of Nardole. Nardole seems to have just…happened! Probably due to the large gap between his introduction in the 2015 Christmas special and his more recent appearance last Christmas.  Nardole just doesn’t quite seem to work yet. Still, I’m hopeful a satisfying explanation as to why the Doctor has him sticking around will be revealed as the series rumbles on. Though at the minute it does sort of feel like Moffatt is keeping him so he can kill him off in the finale (he’s promised it will be a ‘bloodbath’.)

The Pilot demonstrates one of the shows keys themes – regeneration. Doctor Who has the gift of being able to overhaul everything once things start to get a bit stale. It’s great to keep things fresh and allow a ‘stepping on’ point for new viewers….but what about old viewers? Doctor Who has gone through a lot of changes over time, particulary since it’s return in 2005, and next year will see the show have a new Executive Producer, a new Doctor, a new look and possibly a new companion. So did we really need this new revamp so soon? Sometimes the constant changing between series’ can be off putting to those who want to immerse themselves into a story they have already invested so much in. It can be a bit frustrating when the reset button keeps being pushed. Take Capaldi’s Doctor, for instance. This is only the beginning of his third series and he has transformed so much. He’s gone from grouchy and dangerous to a wise old grandfather figure. What happened to the snarling beast Moffatt promised after Matt Smith’s regeneration? I’d have liked that process to take a little longer, to have really been explored. It’s a shame this is to be Capaldi’s last series as his Doctor hasn’t really had much chance to shine.

So, overall a good opening episode but I’m hopeful for a bit less re-booting and a few more references to the show’s history in future episodes. Having pictures of River Song and Susan on the Doctor’s desk was a nice touch. The new TARDIS dynamic is going to give us some interesting moments in the lead up to Capaldi’s exit. I think it’s gonna be a good one.

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