Theatre Reviews

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A powerful exploration of oppression, violence and the class struggle in 1940’s France.

The Maids

Theatr Pena and riverfront – Torch Theatre, Milford Haven – 22nd June 2012

Loosely based on real events that took place in France 1933, Theatr Pena’s dark and disturbing translation of Jean Genet’s ‘The Maids’, which performed at Milford Haven’s Torch Theatre this week, is set in Paris in the late 1940’s.

It tells the story of two sisters, frustrated and ashamed by their lives as maids for the rich and beautiful Madame and whose only escape is the nightly role play that they perform, through which a startling amount of aggression and pain is released.

Theatr Pena is recognised for challenging the traditional. Director, Erica Eirian, deliberately set out to cast older women in the title roles. Olwen Rees (Solange) and Christine Pritchard (Claire) perfectly portray the sisters’ struggle and the fact that they have been confined to their profession for all of their lives makes their story much more poignant. Commanding the stage throughout the performance, their chemistry is staggering, the pacing of the play is perfect – and pauses filled with incredible emotion. The audience were mesmerised. Desperate to escape their oppression, they fantasise about murdering Madame.

We see Solange as the dominant sister pushing her frustration at the ‘Madames’ of the world onto Claire. Claire, however, displays a desire to be like Madame: to try on her clothes and to imagine that life for herself.

Madame herself is not seen until at least halfway through the play. She too appears as sad and frustrated at life, desperately hoping for her husband to come back to her from jail. She is hopeless without the direction of a man and imagines following him ‘to devil’s island’. Portrayed with wit and radiance by Rosamund Shelley, we cannot help but feel sorry for her. She too is a victim of the class system, trapped in a life she hadn’t planned for herself.

The set for this production was particularly interesting. Designed by Saz Moir, it consisted of the inside of a French apartment. White furnishings were set alive with the striking addition of red rose petals strewn across the floor. To the left of the stage was aParis   streetscene, with tables and chairs set out at as a café. As we entered the theatre, the characters were already in place, giving the impression that we had walked in on their lives. This all worked to create a very strong sense of time and place.

Music, another key focus of Theatr Pena, was present throughout the play, setting the atmosphere even before the acting began. The continental tones of an accordion enticed us into the theatre (played by Joe Corbett) enticed us into the theatre and continued intermittently throughout the play, complimented by the beautiful voice of Buddug Verona James’ to emphasise the characters actions and emotions.

The lighting is simple as we move from day into night – a chandelier dominates the apartment, with moments of revelation emphasised by a red glow, working well with the rose petals spread across the white floor to accentuate the suggestion of murder.

With strong characters, a definite sense of time and place and a compelling story ‘The Maids’ is an engaging production from beginning to end. Theatre Pena delivers an original and atmospheric adaptation of Genet’s chilling tale that will resonate with theatre goers of all ages.

Published on http://www.theatrewales.co.uk

THEATRE REVIEW

A Midsummer Night’s Dream

An enchanting adaptation full of magic, mystery and mayhem.

Mappa Mundi, Torch Theatre and Theatre Mwldan  – Torch Theatre, Milford Haven – October 3rd 2012   

The Torch Theatre celebrates 35 years in style this week with one of the biggest and most adventurous productions it has ever seen. The cast is massive, the concept is bold and the use of multi media is incredibly creative.

Mappa Mundi, Torch Theatre and Theatre Mwldan join forces once more (having previously worked on this anniversary production of ‘she stoops to conquer’ in 2009) with acclaimed director Peter Doran to produce an outstanding adaptation which he has chosen to set in 1940’s Britain.

The play speaks of a very British way of life. The threat to class structure and social order is evident throughout and dreams are seen as a way of escapism and exploration. All of the elements of war are there: in the music; the set and the characters who become soldiers; land girls; vicars and air raid wardens. But the play is chiefly about the perils of love. And we soon discover that ‘The course of true love never did run smooth’.  I.I 134

Doran directs with his usual flair and originality. He ensures that every aspect of the Shakespeare classic is magnified, particularly humour. The casting is perfect and the concept of a war time setting works incredibly well, adding a more poignant feel to the characters and events of the play. The multi media aspect is interesting, as it adds a more interactive level to the production. A small screen is used at the start of the play to show a comical silent film, and then again at the end to show Puck delivering his final lines.

Lysander (Jack Brown) and Demetrius (Sam Jones) are both soldiers, fighting for the love of Hermia (Lisa Zahra). Hermia is in love with Lysander but her father disapproves. It is interesting that Lysander has been cast as American, perhaps suggesting the idea of an outsider at a time when Britain was already feeling threatened. This may have been a risky move, particularly for a Shakespeare play, but it actually works well and adds a deeper element to the character.

Joanne Simpkins portrayal of a heartbroken Helena, in constant pursuit of Lysander, is so dramatic it becomes hilarious. As we watch her begging and pleading with him, then rolling on the floor and weeping we can’t help but feel sympathy for her. For everyone knows how it feels to fall in love. But then later, when under the magical spell of Puck’s potion, both men pursue her and she becomes obsessed that they are mocking her. The pleading and crying begins all over again!

In this production the dream world becomes dark and sinister. Puck (Francois Pandolfo) appears quite menacing as he creeps about the stage, spying on his victims and striking while they sleep. Dressed in black and with a cane in hand he appears as a kind of Victorian villain. The audience seemed mesmerised and haunted by Pandolfo’s portrayal of the dream world trickster.

Titania (Lynne Seymour) is enchanting, drawing the audience in as she almost dances across the stage, draped across her fairies, free spirited and powerful in this magical world. Oberon (Richard Nichols) is strong and stern, although weakened by his love for Titania. Driven by his jealousy, and commanding the stage, he executes his plans to make Titania fall in love with an ass. And Puck is his willing accomplice. But of course, this is Shakespeare, and things never quite go to plan. So ultimately, chaos ensues.

The mechanicals: Bottom (Liam Tobin); Snout (Llinos Mae); Flute (James Peake) and Quince (Matthew Bulgo), provide a comic interlude from the dark magic of the dreamland and the threats of war and unrequited love.

Tobin is perfectly cast as the bumbling and outspoken Bottom. A natural comic actor; he commands the stage as he stumbles about, keeping the audience amused with his observations and asides.

The proudest moment for the mechanicals comes at the final act of the play. The story of Pyramus and Thisbe sees the funniest and most bizarre turn of events ever seen on stage. From the revelation of the theatre groups name (S.A.A.D.O.S) to the stumbling over lines, ridiculous props and many slip ups leading to the irritated Quince giving up on any hope of direction. The audience was howling with laughter.

The actors and actresses move seamlessly through the sets and the timing and interaction is perfect. The theatre is heavy with emotion and atmosphere throughout. At the end of the play, a surprise appearance off stage adds to the audience interaction and makes it appear as if we are in a dream ourselves.

The set (designed by Sean Crowley) is kept very simple throughout. This ensures that the focus is on the storytelling and the actors, as well as the use of multi media.  Basic furniture of the period sets the scene at the beginning of the play. The dream world is created by a combination of a painted backdrop of the night sky and long clear curtains painted with trees. The lighting works particularly well here also, where there are blues and purples to create a dream like state. Small lights are used throughout by the actors to suggest the presence of fairies.

The music is very varied in this production. World War II songs set the scene for much of the play as the characters move from scene to scene.  In the dream world the music is quite surreal, with faint voices echoing in the background to suggest the idea of dreaming. This all adds to the sinister and mysterious effect of the dream world.

This production has everything a Shakespeare play needs: humour, romance, magic and mystery. And such a successful collaboration of talented individuals can only prove that it is a positive step towards a promising future in theatre production.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream performs at the Torch until the 20th October and then it undertakes a mammoth 8 week tour of the UK.

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